Monday, August 06, 2007

ready to pack my bags

I am burned out. I keep staring down my desktop calendar in a futile attempt to wish away the days stretching out until I reach the start of my vacation time. Ten days until a long weekend in San Diego. Nineteen days until a week in Iceland. I then glance at the slow moving clock in the bottom right-hand corner of my computer screen and check it against the paralyzed face on my wrist. Still a couple of hours before I can leave work. Another wasted day. Earlier today I calculated how many hours I have billed this year and how many I have left and realized I can afford one lazy, unmotivated month. This is burn out at its worst.

Last night I watched a Danish movie called After the Wedding. It has been sitting on my tv for over two weeks waiting for me to watch it but with my weekend travels and visitors and the subtitles (thus, not an afterwork no brainer movie), I have not been getting my money's worth out of my Netflix membership. So I caught up last night first with the first disk of season 4 of the OC and then After the Wedding (definately a good idea to get the frivolous OC out of the way first). The movie starts in India with a Danish man working in an orphanage. During those opening scenes, a familiar thought came to me - I want to do that. For years I have dreamt of living in an impoverished country, helping people. Fully immersed and secluded. Admittedly, I have romanticized it in my imagination. In college I toyed with the idea of joining the Peace Corps but knew I didn't have the money to do it. Then years ago I heard a lesson in homemaking (that's how long ago it was, we still had homemaking) given by a woman who had volunteered in an orphanage in Romania. I was riveted and longed for her experience - no matter the difficulty. Last year's trip to Guatemala further reinforced this supressed desire to go somewhere and make a difference in a tangible and signifcant way.

I initially struggled to read the subtitles in the movie as I kept envisioning myself there in the sweltering heat scooping out piles of rice onto tin plates to clammering children from a truck and my overly-analytic mind kept running through the logistics. How would I do it. Could I just walk away from my career. Would I want to go for a finite period of time or indefinately. How would I fund it. Would it be realistic for me to drop out of my job like that? How would I feel being that far removed from my family, my friends, my indoor plumbing on a permanent basis? If I work longer would a 6 or 12 month sabatical be realistic?

The movie moved away from the third-world and into the oppulent world of a particular Danish corporate donor. Soon what appeared to be the core plot of a small NGO seeking corporate funding moved to the back seat as the characters expanded and relationships were revealed. I couldn't help but recall a conversation I had on Thursday with one of our departing summer associates. He spent some time in the Peace Corps working in Africa and is spending the rest of his summer interning for a non-profit legal aid organization and feels conflicted about the oppulence and excessive salaries of large New York law firms. He doesn't want to become motivated by money and forget what is important. I talked to him about the guilt I have sometimes struggled with as my salary grew (grows) and the luxuries I have slowly grown accustomed to. But I also talked to him about the opportunities to serve people that are available and often prioritized in the form of community service and pro bono legal work. But is that really enough?

The conversation made me want to do more, give more. Then this movie which ultimately was not about saving orphans in India but broke my heart when I contrasted my own lifestyle with theirs as the main character in the movie complained of the overly extravagent apartment and luxuries that were being thrown at him and what that money could do for the orphanage.

I am anxious to get to my vacation in three weeks and I am looking forward to exploring the fjords, glaciers and geysers of Iceland. But, at the same time, I am disappointed that I am not able to volunteer my time and see the results of my donations and efforts in a concrete way like I did last year in Guatemala. Erin and I are hoping to go to Kenya next year to build a school house. Hopefully that will work out and will prove to be as rewarding as Guatemala.

As for the movie. I highly recommend it. It is an evocative film on many levels and the acting is superb. And me quitting my job to work in outer Mongolia. . . probably a way off at this point but not entirely ruled out as an option.


Ma said...

You'll just have to come home more often to visit the poor relatives. We'll keep you grounded and remind you where you came from.

I'm sure there are a lot of opportunities in your area to help people. Just remember that the world needs highly successful people who are willing to give of their money to worthy causes even if they can't give as much time as some might want.

You have shared your apartment in NY with family and friends who might not otherwise have been able to spend much time in NY. You have always been very generous with what you have.

This is the time and the season of your life to be putting in long hours at work and earning big paychecks, but you may want to try something different in another season. I'm sure you have friends or relatives who might just want to trade places with you for a week. You could go spend a week taking care of the kids and house, and they could stay at your place and enjoy a week of NY life (not including going your job). It would be an interesting change for you.

erin said...

making a difference doesn't necessarily mean leaving all your material things to live in poverty. Sometimes the people close to you or in your own community are who need you the most.

Soul-Fusion said...

I agree erin, but that doesn't stop me from daydreaming when I am sick of work of dropping everything and moving to the edge of the world. Besides, I know you want to live on an island and paint.

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